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Brief Published: 23 May 2013

No Sweat: Breakthrough Fabric


Bioengineers at the University of California, Davis are using microfluidic engineering to develop a new kind of water-repellent fabric that can drain away sweat.

The new fabric uses hydrophilic (water-attracting) threads stitched into a highly water-repellent base fabric, creating patterns that drain the sweat out of the fabric’s edge. The dual forces – the hydrophilic ‘pull’ on the sweat from the threads and the hydrophobic ‘push’ from the fabric – create a microfluidic platform that keeps working even when the fabric is saturated.

The team has deliberately made the fabric suitable for commercial garment makers. "We intentionally did not use any fancy microfabrication techniques, so it is compatible with the textile manufacturing process and very easy to scale up," said Siyuan Xing, lead graduate student on the project.

Scientists around the world are working on creating new materials with more adaptive properties. Earlier this year, scientists at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute developed a new fabric able to vary in texture, colour and function, while in Japan scientists are working on a material that can sense touch.

Designers and brands have spotted the commercial relevance of this research, experimenting with smart fabrics to create new types of clothing capable of observing, responding and adapting to human behaviours. See Advancing Apparel to learn more.

Microfluidic fabric, University of California, Davis